“Bridgerton”: Regency Escapism

"Bridgerton" poster courtesy Netflix
Courtesy Netflix

Last year and into 2021 has been hard for everyone, making the need to forget what is happening around us ever present. One release from modern problems is to escape to the past in a period drama, like that of Netflix’s new Regency era drama “Bridgerton.” Most period dramas are dramatic movies and television shows that range from an almost biographical take or something of pure fiction. “Bridgerton” leans more heavily fictional rather than trying to be historically accurate.

“Bridgerton,” based around a series of romantic novels by American author Julia Quinn, takes place in the Regency era of Britain, specifically the show starts in 1813. This era is ruled by King George III, played by James Fleet (“Phantom of the Opera,” “Sense and Sensibility”), also known as the “Mad King” or to most of us the King from Hamilton “who lost America.” King George’s wife, Queen Charlotte, is played by Golda Rosheuvel (“Dead Boss,” “Silent Witness”). The series plays off of the theory that Queen Charlotte was of African lineage, and it uses this lineage to cast a myriad of talent that normally wouldn’t appear in a show like this, such as Ajoa Andoh (“Doctor Who,” “Royal Shakespeare Company: Troilus and Cressida”) and Regé-jean Page (“Roots” 2016, “Mortal Engines”), as well as allowing the show to examine issues of race.

The show focuses on a traditional period historically held between the months of April through August when members of high society hold balls. It is also where debutantes, girls who become of marriageable age, are presented and can find a match for marriage. The series mainly focuses on the lives of the Bridgerton family whose daughter Daphne, played by Phoebe Dynevor (“Dickensian,” “Waterloo Road”),plans to find a well suited match. Also featured is the Featherington family, with three girls of their own to present, as well as a cousin with a secret. Following the match-making is the newest gossip column that is being penned by one Lady Whistledown, voiced by Julie Andrews (“Victor Victoria,” “Princess Diaries”). To show up in her gossip column can lead a debutante to fame with all the perks that come with it, or bring scandal with a hard shame that can ruin a family.

“Bridgerton” showcases bright and colorful period clothing that lends clever clues to characters’ personalities. Some fashion transitions reflect a character’s growth, whereas others reflect forced change from without. The series is not always historically accurate, but none of the anachronism detracts from the storytelling, and actually adds to this colorful take on period dramas. A cautionary note about the adult nature of the series. After the fourth episode, this show becomes rather explicit, so one might try to avoid the mistake I made and not have family or anyone around who you might feel embarrassed to view very intense sexual scenes.

Another caution is that there are two rape scene. One is an attempted but foiled rape and the other is a full on rape scene that perhaps is meant as a critical commentary given it is a female on male rape. While the power play does impact the relationship between the two characters, the rape really doesn’t make as much of an impact as it should. It feels like there were no real consequences, no more than a cold shoulder from the man. It feels like the writers were insensitive to the trauma of rape. Period dramas can tend to use the excuse of historical authenticity, given there was little acknowledgement of the trauma or rape during the Regency era. The scene is followed by an argument where the woman hurt from a lie is focused on instead of the rape that she had just committed. Where “Bridgerton” could have been different than other period dramas in this regard, it seems to follow the same pattern of brushing aside a serious issue.

Perhaps that may be one of the points of watching “Bridgerton.” It is an escape from modern stress and worry, as it is filled with beautiful scenery, gorgeous costumes, scandal, and an intriguing mystery. And with season 2 just announced, and a rumored 8 seasons planned, we as the audience have much to distract us in the coming years.

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